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Water Beads: Ideas and Uses

Candace has a broad range of interests that keep her head filled with strange facts, such as experimental cooking, games, and mad science.

Water bead

Water bead

What Are Water Beads?

Water beads are an exciting product. They are great for decorating, watering plants, and even for kids' activities and play. They look really cool, and they are fun and easy to use.

They are popular to use in centerpieces for weddings and special events, and they are part of an exciting trend in sensory exploration for kids.

Water beads (also called Orbeez, water pearls, water crystals, gel beads, etc.) are polymer crystals that look like little beads. When they are placed in water, they absorb the water and grow to about the size of a marble.

Keep reading to find out how to use water beads and some ideas for incorporating them in decorations, in plants, and with kids.

How to Use Water Beads

Water beads are easy to use. Just follow the directions and care instructions below.

  • Water beads usually come completely dry. They will be tiny, hard beads. Be careful with them in the package because they will roll all over the place if they get loose.
  • You put them in water for several hours (about 4–8 hours) to let them expand. The more water you add, the more they will grow until they reach their size limit (about the size of a large pea or a marble). For larger beads, wait the full 8 hours.
  • When they have absorbed the water, they will feel like squishy gel and will look like a translucent ball.
  • A strainer can be used to drain excess water once the beads have expanded to their full size.
  • The beads are relatively durable, but they can break. If they are mashed hard enough, they will bust apart. If you drop them onto a hard surface, it can also break them apart.
  • They will retain the water for several weeks or even up to several months. Eventually, the water will evaporate, and the water beads will begin to shrink. Just add more water to keep them hydrated.
  • If you want to shrink them, just let the water evaporate. You can use a strainer to get rid of excess water to speed up the process. Carefully lay them out on a towel (folded at the edges to keep them from rolling off) and let them dry out. Then you can put them in a baggie and reuse them again and again.
A display of many of the use for water beads in decorating.

A display of many of the use for water beads in decorating.

Decorating With Water Beads

The most common use for water beads is in decorating. Use them in vases, bowls, and jars for eye appeal. They are great for centerpieces for weddings and other events.

The water beads really add a wow factor that can turn ordinary vases and bowls into something beautiful.

They come in multiple colors, and there are even different shapes and sizes. Look for jumbo water pearls and square and heart-shaped beads.

Add more pizazz to your decorations with these ideas using water beads:

  • Layer vases with bands of different colored water beads. Use wax paper in between layers to keep the beads separated. Or mix two or more colors of water beads for a rainbow look.
  • You can also add different amounts of water so the beads will grow to various sizes. Then you can layer colors with different-sized beads or mix multiple sizes of one color together by soaking the beads in various amounts of water.
  • Add floating candles to vases with water beads. Add extra water along with the beads so the candles will stay at the top.
  • You can even put pillar candles in the water beads. The beads will be able to support the candle.
  • Drop food coloring in the water with the beads, especially clear ones, for a more colorful decoration. The beads will absorb some of the color for a while.
  • Use real and artificial flowers in vases with water beads. The beads will help real flowers stay moist, and they won't damage artificial flowers. You can wrap artificial flowers with saran wrap before placing them in the beads if you are concerned about the dyes running.
  • Submersible LED lights are awesome to use in containers with water beads. The light looks fabulous shining through the beads. Just turn on the LED lights and drop them into the beads for a lighted centerpiece sure to grab attention.

Water Beads for Plants

Water beads are also great to use with plants. They help plants retain water and reduce the amount of watering plants need. They release the water gradually so the plant isn't flooded with water.

There are a few different methods of using the water crystals in plants:

  • You can add the water beads to the bottom of the pot, but the results will be better if you mix the beads in with soil so that the water will be better distributed.
  • The water beads can also act as a replacement for soil with some plants. Bamboo plants do well with water beads rather than soil.
  • There is water gel that is made just for plants, or you can use normal water beads with them.

Using Water Beads for Play and Sensory Exploration

Another really cool use for water beads is playtime. They are fun for kids to play with and great for exploring and learning.

Just don't let younger kids who may put the beads in their mouths play with them. They are best for kids 3 and up. You will still need to supervise older kids with them. They can be a choking hazard.

Here are some neat activities and ideas for kids using water beads:

  • Water beads seem like magic to kids because the beads start out so tiny and grow within a few hours. Just watching the beads change is a fun activity for younger kids.
  • Playing with the beads is great for sensory exploration. Let the kids feel the beads and play in them to feel the texture. Use them in sensory bins and even in sensory bottles.
  • The beads are great for science lessons. They can be a tool to teach about expansion, solids and liquids, and much more.
  • Water beads are also great for science parties. Use them for party entertainment, decoration, and even for favors.
  • You can also incorporate water beads into math. Use them for sorting (shape, size, color, etc.), counting, and even measurement.

Sensory Actitivites for Kids

Water beads

Water beads

Where to Shop for Them

Water beads are becoming more and more popular, so the places where they are available are growing.

  • You can find water beads at most craft stores.
  • Sometimes dollar stores keep them in stock as well.
  • Walmart and other department stores also usually have them in the floral/crafts department or the gardening section.
  • Orbeez are water beads and activity kits for kids. They can usually be found in toy departments and specialty toy stores.
  • If you can't find water beads locally, they can be ordered online from places like Amazon.

Most water beads are of good quality and retain their color well, but there are some cheap ones out there that may fade after use. Check reviews before buying if quality is essential.


Mona Gonzalez on June 28, 2020:

My mom has kept a bowl of water beads the size of grapes. I never was swept with love for them, but I plan to see how well they will work if used with plants. Thanks for this.

Natesh on June 11, 2020:

Good idea,great info

NAZIR on March 26, 2020:

It is very informative for me and I enjoyed

Halemane Muralikrishna from South India on August 29, 2019:

Hi Ms Candes, Wonderful article on water beads. This article is an example for writing article from scratches!

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on March 27, 2018:

This was pretty cool. My wife has been looking to use these beads for some time so I looked up this hub of yours. I'm sure she is going to enjoy reading it.

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on December 09, 2017:

My wife is a crafty type gal and she is going to love this article on how to use these beads.

Joy Stevens on June 08, 2017:

Can anyone help me. I want use water beads for a brides table but I want to fill the vases with water to submerge flowers but the beads keep swelling when I put more water in. I'm at my wits end and the wedding is next week so please please please help. Thanks

Stefani Nikos on January 25, 2017:

I am a massage therapist and in my practice I use a product that use's a gel based "pearl" in a plastic pack that can be heated in the microwave or plased in the fridge. I am curious to know if I could make my own product using these because they cost much less. Any ideas/ thoughts if this is possible?

Amber on November 18, 2016:

I used these to make a home made stress ball with a balloon and it is great until you squish it a lot and they break. I heard possibly using tonic water might make them 'harder' but I bought them already 'grown'. I heard using tonic water also creates a 'glow-in-the-dark' effect. I might try buying 'grow your own' water beads and use tonic water to see if it works.

Very addicting!! I can't put my stress ball down!!

Jennifer on September 07, 2016:

How long do water beads..sensory bead last and stay full and soft if put in a air tight bag to use as a tent mattress for my 7 year old son

Lauren on July 11, 2016:

Will your cat or dog get hurt if she or he eats one?

Candace Bacon (author) from Far, far away on June 08, 2015:

Nikki - you could try adding food coloring to the water. It may make them look darker.

Nikki on June 06, 2015:

I have a question . I purchased some red beads and they came out like a faint orange color. Do you have any tips on how to make them darker ?

Candace Bacon (author) from Far, far away on May 20, 2015:

Popy - try adding water. It should make them expand.

Popy on May 07, 2015:

How can you make them grow when they shrink!

Candace Bacon (author) from Far, far away on February 24, 2015:

BOB - They can bust, but not easily. It takes a pretty good amount of pressure.

BOB on December 07, 2014:


dude on December 11, 2013:

i never tried them

poetryman6969 on December 08, 2013:

I will have to look into this. Using these beads for watering sounds kinda cool.

Candace Bacon (author) from Far, far away on March 21, 2013:

Abdul Wahabone - Thank you!

Barbara Kay - Thanks! Water beads are fun. Hope you enjoy using them.

Barbara Badder from USA on March 21, 2013:

I enjoyed the article. I've got a package here that I got at a craft fair. I'll get them out and use them today.

Abdul Wahab from Yanbu Al-Bahar, Al Madinah, Saudi Arabia on December 03, 2012:

Such a beautiful and informative article, thanks for sharing with us.